When it comes to defining what a good translator is, not just anyone fits that description. Translators aren’t just people who can speak two or more languages. And they definitely aren’t just experts in a foreign language either. Good translators are professionals in what they do, they have a great linguistic intuition and a flair for language.
Have you ever wondered what the profile of a good translator is like? Here are some key points to consider:
First and foremost, a good translator is a curious person. They have to be interested in learning about the topics they will translate. A good translator must be an expert at searching information and has to always keep up with the latest news to provide the best of translations. Generally, a translator specializes in certain areas, so being keen on acquiring new knowledge is a must.
Together with being good at looking for information, a good translator has critical thinking skills. In order to avoid misleading information, or to detect possible mistakes in the writing or in the source text, they must go beyond literalness and be able to express ideas in a way that sounds natural in the target language.
Talking about writing, good translators are fully proficient in their mother tongue. This doesn’t mean only knowing orthographic and grammatical rules, but also how to use idiomatic expressions and structures, and how to write in general. As a result, their translation will not only be correct, but also fluent. In other words, the text will seem as if it was originally written in the second language.
To be able to do their job, good translators need to know the culture of the target text and, for that, they read (a lot!). Previously, we mentioned this “linguistic intuition” translators should have. In fact, as language is something that is learnt and developed, translators need to be avid readers to be able to understand source texts and deliver high quality translations.
Besides being knowledgeable about general culture, translators have analytical and research skills that help whenever they need to investigate a specific topic to really understand the meaning of a word or text. As Sherlock Holmes, a good translator examines and looks for new evidence, discerns the facts from opinions, bears many options and is able to select the ones that are the most pertinent.
Translators have a remarkable capacity for decision making, especially in cases of conflict or doubts. Although there are always some details that need to be discussed with the client, some issues can be solved beforehand through the use of common sense.
To carry out any task, translators read carefully the project instructions to be able to understand and comply with them to the letter. In case of doubts or ambiguous guidelines, they always have to ask about how instructions need to be followed before starting working. Whenever the information isn’t obeyed, there may be delays or requests of reworking.
Good translators are humble people that are willing to accept criticism and implement required changes and improvements moving forward. They adopt suggestions provided by more experienced proofreaders and editors to become better at their job day by day. The truth is that, even for experienced translators, they never stop learning.
Besides being humble, translators are sincere about their capacities and abilities; they know themselves and their limitations. If they think that they won’t be able to complete a task, they should always openly acknowledge it and reject the project.
Good translators answer quickly whenever they are reached to indicate their availability and prove themselves to be open and communicative. In the fast-paced world we all live in, a quick answer is highly valued, even for non-urgent requests. A great number of clients prefer assigning projects soon, even if the work will be executed later on with a reasonable or loose deadline. This tendency has been present in the translation industry for years, and it increases in language pairs such as English>Spanish where there is intense competition.
It is paramount for translators that they succeed in meeting stipulated deadlines. In case they can’t do it, they must inform the client or project manager in advance to request a time extension.
The era of translating by using a word processor has long fallen behind and nowadays there are multiple tools and software programs that translators need to know to efficiently carry out their work. In this sense, being familiarized with the use of software such as CAT tools, QA programs or online portals -or at least being willing to learn how to use them- is mandatory.